Headteacher calls for handwritten exams to be dropped

Dropping ‘very antiquated’ handwritten submissions in favour of typed papers would improve fairness and accessibility for all, said the head of Malvern College

The headteacher of a Worcestershire independent school is calling for the abolition of compulsory handwritten tests in GCSE and A-level exams.

“Handwriting has largely disappeared everywhere except for school, making it seem very antiquated still to be going into an exam room with a pen and paper,” said Malvern College head, Keith Metcalfe.

Allowing typed papers to be used instead would improve fairness and accessibility for all, he added.

His words echo arguments from the British Dyslexia Association that exams should switch to a digital format. While autistic children are able to ask for use of a word processor, the National Autistic Society is calling for the overhaul of a process involving advance online applications and written evidence.

The time is ripe for a change to take place across the board, argues Metcalfe.

“A series of national lockdowns has seen the education sector adapting to online learning and more modern teaching practises,” he said.

“As a whole, it has stepped up to this challenge and found a way of using the best that technology has to offer to reach children and maintain their learning in most trying circumstances.

“As we use technology, we write less, we lose writing speed and legibility, and it becomes tiring; we are not able to express ideas so quickly or effectively – key elements of success in exams.

“Modern education includes a focus on technology, and yet to do this appears to harm our pupils’ performance in exams where handwritten answers are required.”

The headteacher stressed that he is only advocating dropping the use of handwriting in exams, not from education altogether. His own teaching, he outlined, saw pupils type their work during classroom hours but handwrite their homework.

“We need to equip children with the skills they will need for the world they will enter after they leave school,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean handwriting is not important or that we want to see it as a lost art, but it has already become less relevant in terms of careers, both now and in the future.

“I am sure good schools will continue to have an important focus on handwriting, but simply to do this in order to prepare pupils for exams seems a little backward.”

Read more: Independent schools group launches online tutoring service

1 Comment
  • J. Goodman

    Although bigger transformation of education is needed, this is a good start. Handwriting is becoming quite redundant and I agree that when you use it less, it becomes less fluent and the speed drops. Rightly, it is also a question of accessibility and inclusivity, and making it fairer for all without the assessments to enable special access arrangements.

    Research indicates that handwriting notes helps with remembering. However, up till now we have limited evidence of using word-processed memorising strategies with greater focus on on-line learning/using tablets and keyboards. This is the future and handwritten exams have little relevance to learning and functioning in the modern world.

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